Curtain Calls

Review: 'The Story'
BoarsHead and Plowshares stage riveting drama about race, office politics and journalistic ethics

Imagine that you're a reporter who stumbles upon what could be the story of a lifetime. Would you fight to tell the story in the manner you believe is most accurate? Would you diligently check your facts? And would you be willing to go to jail rather than reveal the source you promised to protect?
Or would you get too close to your story? Would you allow your own desires to color your judgment? And when the story begins to unravel, would you admit the truth? Or would you do whatever is necessary to save your job and your reputation – despite its impact on others?
That's the premise behind "The Story," a fascinating newsroom drama by African American playwright Tracey Scott Wilson now playing at Lansing's BoarsHead Theatre. It's a timely tale about integrity and ethics, yet shaded with the not-so black-and-white politics of race and age.
And in the hands of director Gary Anderson, it's a powerful and riveting drama that delivers no easy answers. Instead, it leaves you with much to ponder!
In Scott Wilson's story, Yvonne Robinson has the credentials every major newspaper in America lusts after: She was graduated from Harvard summa cum laude, she speaks four languages, she's young, she's driven and she sees a bright and unencumbered future for herself in her chosen profession.
Plus, she's black.
Recently hired at The Daily Record, Yvonne is initially assigned to the paper's Outlook section, a portion of the paper that covers the unnamed city's black community. She's not pleased with her assignment; she'd rather work in the paper's more news-oriented Metro section.
Her immediate supervisor, however, doesn't believe she's ready for such an assignment. That's partly because Pat Johnson, a seasoned newsroom veteran, finds Yvonne's work sloppy and inaccurate; race and office politics also factor into the equation.
Although both women are black, they seemingly come from two different worlds.
From Yvonne's perspective, racial battles are a thing of the past; she'll succeed because of her talent and hard work. Pat, however, still sees race as the driving factor behind every decision that's made; her reality is a newsroom in which she's viewed as an affirmative action hire and relegated to a section of the paper with limited potential for advancement.
It's a working relationship that doesn't – work, that is; each views the other with disdain and distrust.
Yvonne is unexpectedly thrust into the limelight when a white couple gets lost in a poor, dilapidated neighborhood. The husband steps out of his car to get directions and is murdered. All his pregnant wife knows for sure is that the killer was a black man.
Neil, another black reporter in the Outlook section, suspects the victim's wife had something to do with the killing. But with few clues, the police seemingly suspect every black male in town.
That is, until a teenage girl Yvonne meets at a community center admits to the killing. Armed with this "scoop," Yvonne gets her transfer to the Metro section – thanks to her white boyfriend who manages the section – and writes the story.
Something doesn't ring true for Pat and Neil, however. So Neil starts digging into Yvonne's background, and what he discovers is startling!
What makes playwright Scott Wilson's tale intriguing is not only its unique perspective – black-on-black stereotyping is rarely addressed in such a public forum – but how the story unfolds. Scenes and conversations overlap: While a detective questions the shocked widow shortly after the murder, the scene quickly shifts to the horrifying act; and when Yvonne complains to her boyfriend about the treatment she received from Pat, we concurrently observe that discussion, as well.
While such a theatrical convention can easily become confusing, director Anderson's precise staging keeps it clear at all times. It's a fast-paced production that never gets lost in the details.
But it's the uniformly excellent performances by Anderson's talented cast that especially keeps the show focused.
Casaundra Freeman excels as the young reporter who dismisses Pat as a relic of an earlier time and Neil as the predatory black man who simply wants to sleep with her.
Charlotte J. Nelson brings depth to the role of Pat, a survivor who can be both extremely sympathetic and frighteningly cruel.
And Rico Bruce Wade shows there's more to Neil than his swagger suggests.
Fine performances are also given by Jason Richards as Yvonne's boyfriend Jeff, and Ginneh Thomas as Latisha, the girl gang-banger who's not as real as she claims to be.
"The Story" Presented Wednesday through Sunday at the BoarsHead Theatre, Lansing, through March 13. Tickets: $25 – $30. 517-484-7805.; then Thursday, Saturday and Sunday at the Charles H. Wight Museum of African American History, 315 E. Warren, Detroit, March 31 – April 24, with a special preview on Friday, April 1. Tickets: $12.50 – $25. 313-872-0279.
The Bottom Line: A fast-paced, thought-provoking and riveting production, thanks to superb direction and excellent performances.

Tidbits: News from Around Town
Feminist Theatre is looking for a few good women

Women interested in telling their own stories are invited to participate in "The Director's Project," part of the year long celebration of the Windsor Feminist Theatre's twenty-fifth anniversary.
Writers, directors, performers and technicians are needed by Canada's oldest feminist theater to assemble a festival of short plays scheduled for April 8 and 9 at the Downtown Windsor Mission Theatre located at 664 Victoria Avenue.
The deadline to apply or submit a script is March 11.
Those interested in becoming a part of this popular tradition are asked to call 519-254-8393 or send an e-mail to [email protected].


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